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Napa Valley Sensations.... Duckhorn Vineyards and JoLe Restaurant!

Duckhorn Estate Photo
Duckhorn Estate Photo

My journey through Napa revealed a variety of winemakers, wineries and culinary delights. Continue reading to discover some of Napa’s special people and places with me.

Premiere Bordeaux varietal wines from Napa are crafted by Duckhorn. Co-founded by Dan and Margaret Duckhorn in 1976; Duckhorn crafts beautiful full-bodied Cabernet, Merlot, and a buttery Sauvignon Blanc. Duckhorn’s commitment to the finest fruit shows first hand in the end result… their wines. Today the winery has seven estate vineyards located on Howell Mountain. Executive Bill Nancarrow was Duckhorn’s Executive Winemaker. Today, Renee Ary is the fourth winemaker in the four-decade history of Duckhorn Vineyards. She has been a big part of the winemaking team for eleven years. Rene shared, “I am incredibly fortunate to work with some of Napa Valley’s most exceptional grapes… My job is to let the vineyards speak and convey the soul of the wine.”

I met with Bill and marketing coordinator Sara Pena. I received first-hand the passion and love they have for Duckhorn. It is a work of love that is delivered at Duckhorn. Bill is down to earth and fun to be around, but make no mistake his global understanding of wine making and respect for tradition make him a serious wine maker. I learned a lot from Bill and am excited to share about the variety of wines we experienced in their tasting room.

We started with Duckhorn Vineyard’s Sauvignon Blanc 2012. “Staying true to honoring the grapes and focusing on the grapes’ soul,” shared winemaker Renee Ary. The vibrant citrus flavors came through. Sweet grapefruit, lemon and nectarine with a hint of vanilla and melon were showcased and lingered on the palette. It is a refreshing and flavorful Sauvignon Blanc.

Duckhorn is famous for the robust bodied Cabernets and the incredible Three Palms Vineyard Merlot. No matter that a character in the movie Sideways never drank Merlot, it’s obvious that he never experienced Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot!

Duckhorn Vineyards Napa Valley, Carneros Merlot 2010 had plum, cherry richness; it was full bodied which enhances year after year. Bill shared that Duckhorn makes hearty Merlots. It is a seductive wine with a velvety like mouth feel from the pure red fruit. The layers of flavor including Bing cherry, raspberry, and supporting notes of almond and sage envelop this beautiful wine. The finish is firm and lingers nicely.

Duckhorn Vineyards Three Palms Vineyard 2010 is their most iconic wine. The location is important. Three Palms was Duckhorn’s inaugural 1978 vintage, becoming over a quarter century of tradition crafting full-bodied wines that reflect the unique terrain of this location. The wine is filled with lush red and dark fruit; highlighting dark cherry, plum, cocoa and Asian spices. It is an expressive, decadent wine with notes of plum, current and mocha among others. The wine is rich and structured beautifully. Bill said this is a cellar worthy wine, so buy this wine to drink now and to put away.

Duckhorn Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 2010 is a misunderstood wine, Bill shared. It is tricky to grow and very fickle so it needs consistency. The berry, creamy caramel, and vanilla come through beautifully. The red fruit continues on the palette with elements of mulberry, volcanic ash, and roasted chestnut. This wine has great texture and flavor that lingers in a lovely way.

The final wine that we drank was the Cabernet. Duckhorn Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 was divine in every sense of the word. It is fragrant with alluring aromas such as cassis, cinnamon, cake, mocha and much more. This wine is smooth on your tongue, showcasing the essence of bittersweet chocolate, red currant, spices and blueberry flavors to your palette. This is an extraordinary wine that is full and luscious.

Duckhorn is a phenomenal vineyard and winery. Any of the Duckhorn wines is thoroughly enjoyable and pleasing.

Bringing food and wine harmoniously together is a farm-to-table restaurant, JoLe, in Calistoga, CA. The menu is seasonal and guests have the choice to select from the variety of lovely wines or allow the sommelier to assist in making exceptional choices to go with the meal. The restaurant has a tasting menu of four, five, or six courses. The price is an unbelievable value. For example, a four course dinner is fifty dollars and with wine it is eighty dollars. Need I say more? JoLe rotates specials to ensure the freshness of the ingredients and the seasonal offerings from farms they work with.

The sugar snap peas with cherries and spiced hazelnuts, and beautifully grilled asparagus with fried garlic, piquillo peppers and a Garnett Creek Farm egg with toast was stunning. From tempura batter soft shell crab to lobster ceviche; sea scallops with fava beans, basil oil, strawberry and tarragon to potato gnocchi with porcinis, spinach and ricotta. The grilled pork belly was stuffed with eggplant and served with a cherry BBQ sauce. If your mouth is not watering at this point, perhaps you are not a foodie. I love this restaurant!

JoLe smokes their quail on almond wood. The delicate and succulent quail was served with chicken livers, dates and almonds. It was divine! The grilled corn fritters were delightful. Roasted beets with red cherries were fabulous. The menu also featured a salmon special, Korean BBQ Kobe brisket, and a lamb T-bone with porcinis, rosemary, roasted potatoes and harissa. Can you say P-l-e-a-s-u-r-e with a capital “P”?

The wines chosen by Rich, the sommelier, were perfect for each and every course. A French Rosé was paired with the snap peas, and an Italian 50% Chardonnay and 50% Ansonica went with the salmon. Each wine was distinct and enriched the dishes. For the scallops, Rich chose a white wine Rhone varietal. We experienced a Sauvignon Blanc from Mount St. Helen and a un-oaked Chardonnay with the halibut. We also had the Kistler Pinot Noir 2011, which is true beauty in a glass.

They have a nice variety of beers, too.

For dessert, it was coconut cream pie with chocolate ganache and macadamia crust; salted caramel cheesecake with chocolate pizzelles; and an apricot crisp with honey thyme ice cream. They also have a selection of artisan cheeses from specific farms and house-made ice cream and sorbet. We also tried cheeses such as the Piedmont from Everona Farm and Hubbardston Blue cheese from Westfield Farm. The cheese descriptions and locations are listed on the menu.

There are beautiful after dinner dessert wines and fun fresh specialty cocktails such as a Thai Collins with lemongrass, cilantro, and jalapeno infused vodka, St. Germaine liquor, lime juice and lemon soda. Plus the Moscow Mule or select a unique rum drink called the Fresco. There is definitely something for everyone at JoLe’s.

I wish JoLe was closer to LA, but then the prices would be higher and I could never get in. You will want to be hungry when you go to JoLe. Be it a romantic date or a party, the atmosphere is friendly, casual, upbeat and fun. The service was impeccable.

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